Turn the Page…

So, I close my eyes to old ends and open my heart to new beginnings.

New year…new beginning…turn the page and start a new chapter! The end. Shortest blog in the history of blogging.

Ahhhhh…if it were only that easy.  Yeah. yeah, yeah…many of us sit at the cusp of the new year proclaiming all the things we will leave behind in the old and declaring all the things we will improve in the new. Yet, by the end of next week our declarations and proclamations will be more like helpful suggestions that maybe we will follow…but not really. The old chokeholds the new until there is nothing new to be written at all. Just a replay of the same old scenes littered with some fresh faces and a few shades of adjusted lighting.

At some level most people struggle with new beginnings because while the idea of “new” appeals to us, we find it so difficult to close the door on the chapter we are leaving behind. It’s like reading a book and fixating so much on one chapter that you never really move past it. How will you ever get to the end if you can never turn the page? What beautiful story lies ahead that you will miss because you are content to simply stay where you are… reading the same chapter over and over again?

There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind. ~ C.S. Lewis

God is a storyteller. His story has been written since the beginning of time and it continues to be written still to this day.  We are currently the characters in His story. Hit pause right there. Take a minute to let that truth change your perspective. This story your living out isn’t actually your own. You are a supporting character in a much larger story. I just lost some of you right there. You were looking for a blog to tell you the 10 easy steps to the 3 eternal truths that will guarantee the 5 perfect disciplines that will lead to a better life. Sorry…wrong blog.

So often we stay in certain chapters of our lives out of fear. We are afraid of the unknown. We stay in painful chapters because we are afraid to be hurt again so we cocoon ourselves in the pain we know. We want to stay in successful or happy chapters because moving on presents the possibility of failure or disappointment. We chain ourselves to the past because the future has to many variables that are unknown. Man…life would have been so much easier had God just given us the stinking blueprint. I mean what writer doesn’t give His cast the script before they have to perform?!?!

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. ~ Hebrews 11:1

Hope is such a funny word. We see hope and we think “I sure hope things work out.” It’s a word that says “this is how I want the story to go BUT I realize it could go haywire at any moment and completely derail.”  However, that is our definition of hope NOT God’s definition. When the writer of Hebrew’s penned the verse above what he was saying was simply…”I am so CONFIDENT that the promises of God are true that even without knowing how the ending will look in my life I am willing to turn the page because I know with God the best has yet to come.”

Hope is confidence rooted in trust. Maybe, just maybe, it is hope that gives us the courage to turn the page. To realize that regardless of what this new chapter holds God is with us. A good author never leaves his characters incomplete or hanging. A good author always uses the events and the circumstances surrounding a character to mold and shape them to fulfill their purpose in the story. And God is the author of the greatest story ever told!!! I think if we can trust NY Times best-selling authors to write great books with well-developed characters we can trust God to do the same. Afterall, who gifted all those authors with the ability to tell a story in the first place? I’m just sayin’!

Where you look is where you will go…

“Turn you eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

Those words are found in my all time favorite hymn. A reminder that I never have to hesitate to end one chapter or afraid to begin the next. If I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus…the author and perfector of my faith and story…I will always know that wherever the next chapter on this grand adventure called life takes me, I will be exactly where I am supposed to be to fulfill my purpose in the greater story being told.

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears. ~ Neslon Mandela

Sunday a church our pastor challenged us all not to make New Year’s resolutions but rather to prayerfully ask God to reveal a word to define our 2018. Of course he said his word was “healthy”. Immediately, I thought “stink, that’s my word!!” Being on staff at the church I knew he would ask us our word and I was now going to look an unoriginal, copycat. Or maybe I was over thinking that just a bit…whatever!!!

This morning God showed me that “healthy” was the word I picked for myself, not His word for me. That’s what happens when you forgo the prayer part and just do your own thing…God corrects you. God always has a way of reminding us of who is in charge…thank goodness.

Anyway, this morning God gave me my word for 2018. Drum roll please…

“CHOICE” is my word.

I have to admit, I was a little dumfounded. Cause “healthy” is really where I am at. Erase the highlight reel…I want lose 25lbs in the new year, start prioritizing my time better, cook dinner for family more consistently, making my quiet time with God a non-negotiable…EVERY DAY!! All of those things stem from being “healthy”, right?!?! Yes, but God reminded me this morning that all of the things start with a CHOICE!!! Healthy food is always available to me as is the ability to exercise but I have to CHOOSE to eat better and hit the treadmill. My stove always works and I’m a pretty decent cook but I have to CHOOSE to make dinner for my family consistently. Every day there are 24 hours in a day, that will never change, so I have to CHOOSE to organize myself and spend that time wisely. God is always with me, always available to me, but I have to CHOOSE to engage Him and make Him first in my day…EVERY DAY!!

I can linger in 2017, it was decent year, some really exciting things happened for us that I am grateful for. Or I can CHOOSE to close that chapter of my story…reflect with a thankful heart, lament on things that brought pain and then turn the page.

Today that is exactly what I CHOOSE to do… turn the page and begin the new chapter. I have no idea what lies before me. What I do know is that all the experiences from previous chapters, good and bad, have prepared me for all the things that are about to unfold. I know that there are new experiences on the horizon that will allow me to see God in greater ways…ways that I cannot even imagine. And I know that God will continue to mold and shape me in this new chapter to become all that He ha created me to be to fulfill His story.

I am simply a supporting character in a story so much greater than my own. And you my sweet friends are supporting characters too. Will you join me on the adventure in 2018? Will you CHOOSE to focus your gaze on Jesus and allow Him to be the author of this new chapter? I promise you won’t regret it.

Much Love and Happy New Year,

Nikki

 

 

 

 

Remembering You…

And I would choose you: in a hundred lifetimes, in a hundred worlds, in any version of reality, I’d find you and I’d chose you. ~ The Chaos of Stars

I’ll never forget…

In the very early hours of an October morning a piece of heaven left that place so close to the Father. Knit together in a womb…beautifully and wonderfully made…entrusted into the hands of another mother and father. Time borrowed and so precious…more than we would ever know.

I’ll never forget…

As the sun set on that miraculous day 10 years ago the sky was a spectacular display of the vibrant colors God has painted across His creation. Red, orange, and yellow painted the dusk sky. It was as if He wanted to us to know that the precious girl who entered our world possessed a beauty far beyond what was earthly. She was destined to be so much more than what could have ever imagined.

I’ll never forget…

The plans we had. The dreams we shared for your future. A mommy and daddy in awe of this perfect gift from heaven. As we counted fingers and toes we imagined snuggle time, sloppy wet kisses, pig tails and sparkles, painted finger nails and daddy daughter dances, first kisses, true love, and daddy giving his princess away to the one who would love you through this life.

I’ll never forget…

The way we fell in love so quickly. It was instant. You captured our hearts and captivated our lives.

I’ll never forget…

The way your brother’s adored you. The gentle rubbing of your hands as one sat in awe of your presence. And the other’s elation. Knowing you were surely an answer to all he had prayed for. I imagined how they would guard and protect you throughout your life…and even drive you a little crazy from time to time.

I’ll never forget…

The day that the time that had been borrowed, the time that was so precious had run out. The day you slipped through our hands and into eternity.  Forever changing the course of who we were and who we would become.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. ~ Winnie the Pooh

10 years ago you entered our world. No one could have ever known how brief your time with us was meant to be. But God knew…every day He had for you was ordained before one of them ever came to be. He could see beyond the horizon….He could see what no human mind could comprehend…He could see that when a piece of heaven kisses earth, even for the briefest of moments, it leaves a lasting imprint on the hearts, minds and lives of everyone who was fortunate enough to witness it’s splendor. That even when the beauty of the presence is no longer physically here the memory of the blessing gives us an indescribable feeling of gratitude for ever having the privilege to experience it in the first place…regardless of how brief the encounter was. It reminds us that true love defies time and space…it transcends the confines of this earth because it was always meant to be never ending. The beauty of true love is that it was designed to be as eternal as the One who created it…the One who calls us His beloved.

Regardless of the pain and the heartbreak, if I could go back 10 years, I would STILL choose you. Even knowing what I know now…especially because of what I know now…I would ALWAYS choose you! You are the catalyst that made our family everything it is today…you are the catalyst for everything that Mommy and Daddy have become…You are the miracle that allowed us to experience God’s love…His presence…His goodness…His faithfulness. Without you we would be an empty shell of who we are. You are the piece of heaven that kissed our life and awakened our need for things so much greater than what this world has to offer.

Do you see that? Do you know that 10 years ago you when you entered our world your hand print intertwined with God’s to change people’s lives…forever?

My precious Francesca, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of you nor is there a moment that I do not miss you, that my arms do not long to hold you. My beautiful girl, do you know that mommy envisioned your 10th birthday with pedicures and sleepovers not a blog post written through tears? But through my shattered expectations and hurting heart…I choose to celebrate you. To celebrate the gift that you are. To celebrate that God continues to use you in this world. To celebrate that I am a better me because I got to hold you close and call you mine even for the briefest of moments. To know with full confidence that today you celebrate your birthday with the One that loves you far more than I ever could because He is the One who created you.

My sweet girl, my mind sees you dancing in all of your heavenly splendor…illuminated by the glory of God…rejoicing in His presence. Dance Bella girl…dance!! And know that here on earth we will celebrate the moment that heaven kissed the earth and gave us the gift of you.

Mommy loves you Francesca Isabella. Until we meet again, I will never forget.

The Price of Love

Motherhood-1

Grief never ends … But it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith … It is the price of love. ~ Unknown

The early hour of the morning made the usually active household silent and still. In the quiet I slipped out of bed…the grayness of the sky matching the color of my heart. In the silence I needed just a few moments to collect myself before my beautiful boys would awake and expect their mama to be ready to celebrate this day dedicated to honoring mothers. Although, truth be told, every boy in my house knows that this day above all in the calendar year is the hardest for me.

Mother’s Day is a little like Russian roulette. I never know what it will be like until it is here. This morning it was exceptionally difficult. Maybe because this year marks the 10th Mother’s Day I have spent without my daughter. Maybe it is because in the last several weeks my mind has wander more often than usual to the thought of “who will take care of my youngest son with autism after my husband and I are gone.” Or maybe it is because I see my oldest and my heart aches for the innocence he lost so long ago…innocence that was shattered by autism and death.

Motherhood did not turn out how I expected it to be at all. I never would have imagined that the source of one of your greatest joys could also be the source of your deepest heartache. I have a good friend and mentor that often reminds me that the depth of love we have is what makes the depth of emotion so strong.

This morning the emotion overwhelmed me and the tears flowed. My arms ached to hold my precious girl, my mind screamed at the cruelty of autism, and my heart ached for a childhood lost. Then it happened…as my sweet husband held my hand while I cried my youngest son came out of his room. First he pointed out a picture on his iPad…yes, when you have autism an iPad is always close by. The picture held no significance it was just a freeze frame of a movie. But he tenderly came up to me, as if sensing something wasn’t quite right, showed me the picture and said “isn’t it beautiful?” And in that moment it was beautiful…his sweet, tender care melted this mama’s heart. But then, as if knowing why my heart ached, he looked up at the pictures hanging on the wall, touched my face and said “look, Baby Cesca.” How did he know? And if that wasn’t enough…my oldest son proceeded to give me a card with a hand written note. I will not share the details, some things are meant to stay private, but I will say it was the most beautiful note I have ever received.

These, my dear sweet friends, are God hugs. They are little ways that God is all around us working in and through the people in our lives to remind us that He sees us and He loves us. When our hearts ache, His heart aches. When our tears flow not only does He catch them but He weeps for the pain His children must endure this side of heaven.

This morning I was reminded of the bittersweet symphony of motherhood. To love so deeply costs us the largest portion of our hearts. I once had a very wise friend tell me, actually right around Mother’s Day early on after my daughter passed away, that God didn’t intended for me to live brokenhearted. This morning I realized how true those words really are. Our children are such a precious blessing that God gives to us. An opportunity for us to have just a taste of His love for us. The cost of that taste is always high…no matter how the story ends. A mother always gives away parts of herself for the betterment of her child…there is no greater cost than that and no greater love.

This is why the bond between mother and child is so strong. It begins the moment that God knits together a precious knew life in their mother’s womb. It is a bond that cannot be full explained or fully understood…it just is. I believe it is God’s way of giving us a precious glimpse of supernatural love…a love beyond anything we can comprehend. A love that we pay a very deep price for but the return is priceless. Isn’t that exactly how God loved us when He allowed His Son to die for the betterment of all His children?

For this reason we celebrate and honor mother’s. For their love, their sacrifice, and their willingness to give it all for their children. This is also why today is so gut wrenching for many. For the ones who long for heavenly reunions and the ones who long to have one to call their own. For the ones who worry after prodigals and the ones who cling beside hospital beds. But this day is also difficult for children too. The ones who long for their mother’s touch or the sound of her voice just once more. And the ones who ache for the mother they never knew or the strained and broken relationship that has caused distance and separation.

The price of love is always high but the reward is much greater than any risk we must take to have it. The reality is, we were created for love and it began before we were ever even born. God’s love has always been with us and always will be. On the days when we feel the most isolated and broken He longs to wrap His arms around us and open our eyes to the beauty in our lives. Today if you have all of your children with you…give them an extra squeeze and make sure they know how much you love them. Today if your mom is still with you make sure you tell her how amazing she is and how much you love her. If your heart is aching today know that you are not alone…you are never alone…God is always with you and His love is always around you. He sees your pain and He longs to ease it…if you will let Him.

Today I have a heart full of gratitude. I am thankful for a beautiful mother who has taught me how to be loyal and passionate, loving and giving. The gifts she has passed on to me have been numerous and she will never truly understand how much my bother and I adore her. I am also thankful for two boys that show their mama in so many ways how much they love me. I am thankful for beautiful friendships that know my pain and speak to my heart in so many ways. I am so so thankful for a husband who cherishes me as a wife and encourages me as a mother. But I am most thankful that this is all just a journey…a pilgrimage home. Where heavenly reunions are sweeter than I could ever imagine and the price of love is fully realized.

 

 

New Beginnings…

Hello…remember me?!?! You know the would be blogger that has become an occasional writer. And by occasional I mean two blogs a year, if I’m lucky. Well I’m back. Some might be happy about this grand announcement while others might roll their eyes and say “who cares!” Whatever the case may be I have reminded myself this morning that I don’t write for the applause of an audience, I write because God has wired me for it. Writing is in my soul, my artistic expression…the page is my canvas and words are my symphony. It really doesn’t matter how they are received…well maybe just a little. When God stirs the words in my soul this blogs come back to life.

So where has God been? Why hasn’t He stirred anything in me for months? Well rest assured my friends…God hasn’t gone anywhere. It is your friendly writer who has let the busyness of life drown out all the words God has stirred up in me. Who knows how many I have sped right by in the frantic pace I have been living my life.

When a woman lives with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule, she’ll ache with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul. ~ Lysa TerKeurst

Several months ago we were in a sermon series at our church called Encounters. This series journeyed through the Gospel of Luke breaking down different encounters Jesus had with people during His ministry here on earth. During the series I preached a message out of Luke chapter 10 about two sisters, Mary and Martha. Now if you are not familiar with the story let me break it down real fast. Jesus, with His disciples, are traveling through a village named Bethany. They stop at the home of Jesus’ really good friends Mary and Martha. The story is only 5 verses long but Jesus, known for making the most of His time, teaches a lesson that has been stirring in me since January.

Two sisters…two very different encounters with Jesus. As Jesus enters the home Mary is content to simply sit at His feet. A position that suggests, according to first century  tradition, that Mary was ready to be instructed. She was hanging on every word Jesus said…it was her lifeline…her source of how she would continue to live and serve. Mary was in a posture to receive all that her Lord wanted to pour into her. Meanwhile the story tells us that Martha is distracted by all her preparations. The Greek word for distracted means “to be dragged around in circles.” Martha is literally running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Can any of you relate to that?!?! How often do you feel like your hectic pace has you being dragged around in circles…running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Now you have to know Martha wasn’t busy doing frivolous stuff. It says she was busy with her preparations. The Greek word for preparations means “serving” or “ministering.” Martha is busy doing really good stuff…she’s serving others. But the story tells us that all this busy work has left her frantic and it has caused her to become worried and bothered. She’s mad at her sister and she’s losing her patience with Jesus. Two people she loves dearly are frustrating her on every level not because they are doing anything wrong but because they aren’t falling in line with her agenda and expectations.

STOP right there. This blog is not meant to shame anyone…it’s sole purpose is to communicate what God has revealed to me and quite possibly might want to speak into you as well. However, I have to ask the question…how many of you, in the busy and hectic pace of your lives tend to lash out or get frustrated with those you love the most; your spouse and your kids usually suffer the most at the mouth of the frantic and rushed. Don’t worry I won’t make you post your answer in the comment section but I do want you to be honest with yourself..no matter how much it might sting. Ok…i’ll go first…my name is Nikki and I am a Martha! Yes, sometimes my husband says to me “why are you so nice to everyone else and have nothing left for me?” And if that doesn’t hurt enough how about the moment last week when my mind was so overcrowded with a to-do list that I lost it on my son for a really stupid reason. In a wise beyond his years kinda way he looked at me and simply said “mom, you’re better than that.” OUCH!!!!!!!! Dagger meet heart, insert and twist. It’s OK girls! We are all works in progress. We will never get it all right. I’m just praying to keep Sammy’s future therapy costs to a bear minimum.

Let’s be honest, Martha is the poster child for the modern day multi-tasker and most of us can identify with her. But in reality she has allowed a lot of really good stuff get in the way of what was most important…spending time with Jesus. Jesus, her good friend, had become so familiar to her…His presence had become so ordinary to her that she failed to slow down long enough to simply be present in the moment with her Savior!!!! She traded in the awe and wonder we experience at His feet for an overwhelming to do list. How often do we do that? We justify our lack of connection and intimacy with Jesus because of the busy season of our lives. We act as if He should understand being shoved to the back burner because ,after all, He is Jesus…He’s not going anywhere. Well, maybe not you but I am sure you have a friend that can relate.

As the story progresses Jesus tells Martha “you are worried and bothered by so many things but only one thing is necessary. For Mary has chosen the good part and it will not be taken from her.”  What Jesus is saying in a nutshell…”I don’t care what you are doing!!! How good it is, how beneficial…even serving me. NOTHING…NO activity is more important than spending time with Me…PERIOD!!!!” And don’t miss the most important part…Mary CHOSE the good part. I love that! Mary had to make a conscious choice to put Jesus first!! That means if Mary can choose it so can Martha.

The soul always knows what to do to heal itself…the challenge is to silence the mind. ~ Caroline Myss

This past Friday night I had the awesome opportunity to preach at a revival service. Revival is no small thing. It is God’s people crying out for a supernatural movement of God…an igniting of the Holy Spirit that will sweep our land like wildfire…a movement of the name of Jesus like our generation has never known…accomplishing the things that can only happen with the overwhelming power and presence of God. As I prepared God laid these precious sisters on my heart again. I wasn’t sure how it would all play out but I knew this was the message God wanted me to share.

Revival or the reawakening of God’s people is not something we can orchestrate…we can’t work harder to make it happen…it doesn’t fit neatly into our agendas or timing…and our expectations will always limit it. You see revival ALWAYS begins at the feet of Jesus…in our Savior’s presence…listening for His still, soft voice. You cannot do revival you have to be revival. As the presence of Jesus consumes you He will overflow out of you into others…that is how revival starts. It’s personal, individual, and it happens at the feet of Jesus.

The congregation I spoke to is singularly focused on revival for the next 21 days. For anyone who has ever done the 21 Day Fix workout DVD knows “It takes 21 days to start a new habit” So for the next 21 days I challenged them to give Jesus their undistracted devotion. A true devotion…not a rushed 5 minutes of rattling off everything you want Him to do for you…but a time of quieting their souls at the feet of their Savior. Ultimately this was a challenge to deepen ones intimacy with Christ. I wonder what would happen if all of God’s people challenged themselves this way. Call me crazy but my guess would be…REVIVAL!!!

When you’re a preacher or teacher of God’s word it’s funny how He lays a message on your heart to share with others only to discover that He actually wanted to speak to you. I have no doubt that God wanted to use Mary and Martha to speak into the people of the church I spoke at. But I know with 1000% certainty He also wanted to grab my attention. Over the last several days He has posed this question to my heart…”how many times will you study these sisters before you put down the mantle of Martha?”

For so long I have wondered where my words have gone. Why haven’t I been inspired to write in months. Through the most controversial election our country has ever known I never felt I had the right words to share…why?!?! Because I have been so busy being Martha. On paper I am doing really good things but i’m missing out on giving Jesus my undistracted devotion.  My soul misses her Savior…she longs to sit quietly at His feet. To rediscover the awe and wonder that happens when we linger in His presence rather than rush right by Him.

There comes a day when you realize turning the page is the best feeling in the world, because you realize there is so much more to the book than the page you were stuck on. ~ Zayn Malik

The beauty of God is that He never leaves His children stuck. Stuck in old patterns, stuck in bad habits, stuck in the messes we make when we try to do things in our own strength. He reveals truth, not to shame us, but to remind us there is a better way. So today my underwhelmed soul publicly declare “NO MORE” to my overwhelmed schedule. Just like Mary, I am choosing the good part…I choose Jesus. I, like so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ long for revival but God has made it abundantly clear to me that collective revival MUST begin with personal revival.

Today I turn the page. My story is not stuck…a new chapter is simply beginning. A chapter that will consist of boundaries and margin, sacred spaces and silence, Jesus’ presence and God’s heart. In this season I may have to say “no”…a lot. Please don’t take it personally….it’s not you, it’s me. Sometimes in our quest for more of Jesus we have to let go of others expectations of us. We have to be willing to sacrifice some of the really good stuff for the very BEST stuff.

I read in my devotional today that the presence of God is free but His heart will cost you. It takes time and intentionality to know the heart of God. However once you discover the treasure of God’s heart then you can dream BIG God dreams and be free to chase them. That is a price I am more than willing to pay. How about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York State of Mind

“New York is a diamond iceberg floating in river water.” ~ Truman Capote

As is sit on my back patio soaking in a lazy Saturday morning…a moment I have no business slowing down to relish or ponder…I cannot help but think about where I was a week ago. When I put the hectic schedule on hold, let my to-do list sit idle, and just basked in the moment. Soaking in every nuance of a city that touched my soul in a way that I never expected.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep passion for the city of Charleston, S.C. There is something about her that resides in the depth of my soul…she has gripped me and her spirit mingles beautifully with mine. Yes, I am talking about a city. But Charleston is so much more…she speaks to me, refreshes me, gives my worn down self rest. I have to confess, last weekend I feel as though I was unfaithful to Charleston. I discovered that this indescribable feeling that lures me back to the Holy City is not reserved solely for her.

I can still hear it…the din of activity…taxi cabs mingled with the subway, combined with sirens, playing out a like a grand symphony. I was absolutely captivated by the fluidity of movement and the grandeur of bricks and mortar, steel and concrete, pavement and rail tracks springing to life with a vitality and vibrancy I didn’t even know existed.

“One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” ~ Thomas Wolfe

From the moment the plane descended into La Guardia the excitement bubbled up in me. A glance at the skyline, a sighting of the Brooklyn Bridge. There is something so magical about New York City. It almost mythical, can a fairy tale really be set in a concrete jungle?!?! It’s as if the city has a life of its own, if gives off an energy like I have never before experienced and like a highly addictive drug I found myself wanting more.

From the lights on Broadway, to the grandeur of the Plaza hotel, the hustle of the city streets, and the serenity of Central Park. There were frantic walks to the theater and quiet strolls through TriBeCa. Art is everywhere…people are the art in New York. They play and they display…in formal institutions and in quiet, sleepy basement style jazz clubs in the West Village. In local restaurants you taste a flavor of the eclectic crowd that calls Gotham their home. Like vibrant colors on a canvas they create the beautiful masterpiece that I couldn’t help wanting to be a part of. I didn’t want to be a visitor, I wanted to be one of the charmed ones who understood the depth of all this city was because it was home. I felt like such a poser, such a tourist, in a place that seem to fit me like a glove.

“New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do. Now you’re in New York, these streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you…” ~ Jay-Z (Empire State of Mind)

What happens when you have one dream for your life only to have it live out so completely different? As I melted into the frantic rush on the pavement an overwhelming feeling hit me…I was walking the steps of my girlhood dream. The culture, the elegance, the diversity, the activity, the power careers…this was my dream. I could see 18-year-old Nikki so clearly…so ambitious…so hungry to devour all that life had to offer. This is where she had imagined herself. I think she also saw herself married to John F. Kennedy Jr., just keeping it real. And as 40-year-old Nikki stood there she came face to face with her childhood dream meeting the reality of her life. First, let me say I hate people who talk about themselves in third person, so please feel free to make fun of me for doing just that. Second, don’t get too worried…this isn’t were I say “I’m living the wrong life and I’m leaving it all to pack up and move to NYC.” It’s okay, I know some of you were thinking it. Actually, after coming off the high of being in this very intoxicating city, I realize that New York, like Charleston has become one of the great loves of my life. How funny, because on paper Charleston and NYC are so very different yet they both speak to my soul. I predict that I will return to the city that never sleeps…often!!!! I want more of her and she has so much more to give. But she is not home.

“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

18-year-old Nikki hadn’t learned that valuable lesson yet…but she soon would. Home is not a place that seemingly fits like a glove or feeds a dream. Home is where love is. The beauty of age is reconciling what you desired with what matters. How much would I have missed had I followed my 18-year-old hearts desire? Had I not been derailed from chasing my ambition where would I be? This week I stood face to face with those very questions (maybe I had a mini mid-life crisis) and I have an answer…I don’t care!!! Now, I am all about transparency…that wasn’t my immediate conclusion…I had to reflect for a few days. But I choose not to live in the land of “what if?” How many people constantly look back at the paths not taken as failures to live the life that they dreamed? To what avail? Retrospect often opens the door for bitterness and discontentment to take root and it steals all the joy from the life we have been given.

We have been given this one life to live and sometimes the dream and the reality look quite different. That doesn’t mean the dream has died, it means a new dream has been born. I love that I get to go places like Charleston and New York City…places where my soul comes alive in new and fresh ways. But my heart will always be at home and home isn’t a place, home is where love resides. Where there is love there is contentment. Ahhhh…I am really loving the wisdom that comes with age. Did I just toot my own horn?!?! Possibly.

Contentment for me comes from a husband and soul mate who loves and respects me; My children that make me love deeper than I ever thought possible; friendships that champion me and love me regardless of my crazy; a family that is rooted in love and loyalty; a ministry that gives me more purpose than I ever thought was imaginable; and my God who loves me far beyond what I deserve and way beyond what I can comprehend. All the things that my 18-year-old self could have never understood, my 40-year-old self is humbly grateful for.

I guess you could say this homage to New York City is a long, drawn out thank you. How does one even thank a city? Maybe I’m the only weirdo who wants to know. Regardless, thank you for being everything I dreamed of and so much more. Thank you for allowing me to disconnect from reality and, for a brief moment, be a part of your colorful mosaic. You have reminded me that what is hidden in one’s soul is multifaceted and there are many layers. That excitement and elation can come from visiting places that touch your soul deeply but  true joy and contentment are always found at home.

 

 

 

My Golden

“Let yourself be seen. Love with your whole heart. Practice gratitude. Lean into joy. Believe you are enough.” ~ Brene Brown

It is the eve of my 4oth birthday and I find myself in a reflective mood. Over the last several days precious sisters in Christ have been showering me with love and thoughtful gifts that represent me and this milestone birthday. It has been a humbling and overwhelming experience that today left me in tears. Tears of feeling so undeserving and tears of gratitude that I get to call some of the most amazing ladies on the planet my friends. Tonight I sit back in awe as I reflect on just the last decade…not a single one of these ladies who have showered me with so much love have known me longer than 10 years. Yet, in the time since we have met these ladies have journeyed alongside me through my son’s autism, the death of my precious daughter, confessing my biggest fears and the road to conquering them, going back to school, and walking in the calling God has placed on my life. They have seen me on the mountain top and they have laid in bed beside me as I have wept. They have celebrated my victories and they held me up when the heartbreak brought me to my knees…sometimes all they could do is simply kneel beside me with a prayer on their lips and a soft soothing touch that remained until the wave of grief passed. They have championed me, encouraged me, challenged me to be stretched beyond my comfort zone, and they believed in me before I ever believed in myself. Some friendships have been years while others are newer but they are all precious in their own right. Over and over again each of these ladies have been the visible proof of my invisible God. They remind me that He is here…cheering me on…taking me places I never thought I could go. They say it takes a village to raise a child…well I say it takes a tribe to bring out the very best in us. The sisterhood in Christ is a strong and powerful force and I have been blessed with the most amazing sisters.

“The bread is so that you may never know hunger. The salt is so that your marriage will always have flavor. The wine is so you will always have something to celebrate.” ~ An Old Italian Wedding Blessing

This past weekend we celebrated my younger cousins marriage. I have to be honest, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is not fiction. Omit Greek, insert Italian and it’s a documentary of my family. Sure we live up to the stereotypes: we talk too loud and with our hands, we have a flair for the dramatic, we have hot tempers, and yes we really do believe that Italians do everything better. But take away the comedic value and the over-the-top stereotypes and what remains is a beautiful truth…growing up in an Italian family has always given me a sense of belonging to something special. We are a tribe that stretches far and wide.  I have cousins who aren’t my cousins at all and most of my nieces and nephews are actually my cousins kids. Many people don’t even have a relationship with their first cousins while I know and have relationships with my third and fourth cousins. My aunts and uncles have been just as influential in my life as my own parents and my grandparents were always the center of our family. The greatest part of being Italian is that you always have a ready made cheering section. Rooted in love we always have each others back. As a child you always fall naturally into the patterns you have always known and rarely question it. As you grow into adulthood you begin to realize that not every family is like yours. Many family’s don’t kiss hello and goodbye, most people don’t eat seafood only on Christmas eve, prosciutto and salami are not staples in every house, and most people don’t eat Sunday dinner at 1:00. All these things make us unique…we hang onto the traditions that followed my grandparents to the new world as they left their home country behind because it keeps their story alive. The legacy of the immigrant experience for Italians is a strong sense of loyalty and family and I was reminded once again this weekend how blessed I am that their story is a part of my story.

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you, so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”

As I turn the page to begin a new chapter of my life I can’t help but feeling like the best is yet to come.  God is stripping away all the things that have held me back from walking in the fullness of the life promised through His Son. I finally realize that I am a beautiful blend of my earthly family and my family in Christ. The two are meant to compliment each other. Like a symphony, they work together in perfect harmony so that I can become all that God has created me to be. Over the last several days I have been reminded that we are not meant to journey this road alone…that was never God’s design. He has strategically placed people in our lives to share our lives with. An earthly family bound together in love through a shared experience, history, and traditions and a family in Christ where we can celebrate all that makes us unique while knowing that we are bound together by the deepest love we will ever know, the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Months ago I started reading the book Brazen by Leeana Tankersley. The premise of the book is to find the you hidden deep inside your soul.I found myself identifying so much with the author. Maybe it was because as she wrote and I as I read we both found ourselves at the doorstep of 40…a turning point…or as Lenny Kravitz sings “old enough to see behind me but young enough to feel my soul.” Or maybe it was simply that my soul was just longing for me to slow down long enough to pay attention to its hidden desires.

It was one night as I was having what the author calls “Soul Time” that I discovered one chapter was ending and another was about to begin. The words flowed out of me and I closed my journal ready to embrace the new. Over the last several months I have thought about my late night “Soul Time” revelation but I never went back to read the words…until tonight.

Soul Time entry April 1, 2016

I sit at the dawn of a new era in my life. An era marked by the battle wounds and scars from times that have passed.

Sweet memories come with me and heartaches etched deep in the fabric of who I am becoming.

All things old have value in creating what will be…the new birth…the new life.

The old is woven with the new and the tapestry dances with the vibrancy of all the colors.

The contrast of the dark with the beauty of the light.

It all comes alive as God begins a new work in me.

The season of my golden begins…

Silence Isn’t Always Golden

When darkness comes

And pain is all around  

Like a bridge over troubled water

 I will lay me down  ~ Simon and Garfunkel

Sometimes there are no words to say. No thoughts to convey. No amount of polish or eloquence to make the reality of a situation less brutal than what it is.

Orlando, FL June 2016. Who will ever forget hearing the headline “Mass Casualty Situation?” Then to discover that 50 people had lost their lives…

I started this blog weeks ago but never got past those first few lines. My mind struggled to comprehend a kind of hatred that leaves a heart stone cold. The words just wouldn’t come so I remained silent.

Last night my husband and I sat watching Fox News. People in Dallas,TX peacefully protesting when all hell broke loose. People scattering, screaming, shots fired! In the first few moments, before the full realization of what was occurring hit, Fox showed the images of officers down on the ground. I couldn’t believe what  I was seeing. Matt and I looked at each other and we knew something was terribly wrong…those officers were not hunkered down, there were gravely hurt. There we sat glued to our TV in utter disbelief. How devastating it was to finally go off to bed knowing that 5 families were being contacted to let them know their loved would not be coming home.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This morning I sit here. In the silence I try to put words to emotions but it all falls short. Nothing can fully encapsulate how I am feeling because honestly, I am at loss. So much pain, so much hurt, so much hate…when does it end? How do we make it stop? We are spinning out of control. A country in chaos…so divided, so much tension…on so many levels. I would love to tell you have a 5 step plan to make it all better, but I don’t. What I do have is a voice…a voice that can speak compassion…a voice that can speak love…a voice that can no longer stay silent. A voice that is compelled to say “I am sorry…” I am sorry for not getting past myself and my own circumstances to gain a better understanding. I am sorry for the generalizations and stereotypes I have carried in my own mind that have hesitated or perpetuated my thoughts and actions. I am sorry for being a voice that speaks “be the change you want to see in the world” yet in the tough stuff I often go silent.

God is love…and as we live in God, our love grows more perfect…such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. We love each other because he first loved us. ~ 1 John 4: 16,17,18

Just like Orlando, this week’s events have me once again focused on the people. The ripple effect of the actions of a few will have life long implications for many.  Lives lost or forever altered because of fear. Is fear not what most prejudice and hatred is rooted in? Fear of what is different, fear of what might be contrary to your own ways or beliefs. What we fear we often dislike and our dislike often leads to disdain which gone unchecked leads to hatred. We sit back our with our preconceived notions or the ideas that we have been predisposed to, whether by environment or upbringing, and we allow that to become the catalyst of the narrative in our minds.

I cannot change the whole world but I can use my one voice to speak a different narrative. You see, I strongly believe the change we all long to see begins with the people of God. Why? Because we have been called and commanded to love and love will conquer hate. What makes our love unique, what gives our love power is that it is rooted in God’s love. It is not an emotional response it is a choice. A choice rooted in the understanding of what God has done for us. Every Christ follower must process this idea, that while we were still sinners God sent His Son to redeem us, to forgive us…why? Because of His unfailing love for us. When we begin to recognize that the very love and grace that God extends to us has been extended to all…there is no one unworthy of the gift of Jesus Christ, no one outside the realm of God’s forgiveness, and no one that God does not love and long for. Then we, as His children, will be the first to extend love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness because we should have the greatest understanding of what it means to receive all of those things. The problem we tend to see in the world is that love is given based on conditions where as the love of God is unconditional. That very love should flow from His people. You don’t need to be more like me, you don’t need to vote like me, you don’t need to think like me for me to love you…I love you because I have been first loved by God through Jesus Christ and that love compels me to love others.

It is this very love that has brought my voice to life. I can no longer sit by on the sidelines a spectator to hurt, pain, injustice, hatred and say nothing. It is impossible to have a love for God and not be devastated and heartbroken over that things in our world that cause Him anguish. And if God is the author of the narrative of my life then I must speak life into this world and this is my starting point.

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

What I have come to appreciate and respect most about Martin Luther King, Jr. was his ability to motivate people to fight for something bigger and greater than themselves.  I believe he was so effective because he didn’t fuel a fire of hatred to achieve his goal but rather he preached a message of mutual love, respect, dignity, and equality. He understood you don’t end violence or hatred by perpetuating it. The end will only come when we stand together as ONE race, the human race…remembering we have ALL been created in the image of God…each one of our lives precious and valuable.

I do not have all the answers to the problems we face, in fact I can offer few tangible solutions. However, I can begin a conversation. A conversation that recognizes there is a problem and we all play a role in its solution.

 

 

In Between the Dark and the Light

I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight, with a million stars all around. ~ Peaceful Easy Feeling by the Eagles

 The hour is early and the world around me slumbers. Well some of it does…as I look below I see a city that never sleeps, dimmed but never completely shut off. The black begins to fade into a beautiful shade of bluish gray as the rising sun ends the night with splashes of red, orange and yellow off in the east. The setting…the desert. The sun begins to greet the new day behind a set of mountains and it takes my breath away. The beauty of God’s majesty leaves me in awe and wonder. As the spectrum of colors increase across the sky I am reminded that our God is a Creator and the evidence of His creativity is all around us. DaVinci, Michelangelo, Monet…where does artistic ability like that come from? It comes from being created in the image of our Creator God, who is Himself the ultimate artist. Take a moment to watch the sun kiss the sky at dawn and I think you would agree with me.

I’m really not a desert person, too brown. I am palm tree and water kinda girl. But as I hiked the Red Rock Canyon yesterday I felt something deep within me stir. I have always thought the ocean is the greatest representation of the vastness of God, an earthly illustration of His power and majesty. I seek the shoreline for the peace and serenity of God…I always feel closest to Him there. However, yesterday the grandeur of the rock formations…the hues of red and yellow, mixed with brown and green left me in awe of God’s creative hand. I breathed in the air of an untamed corner of the desert that allows us in for a mere glimpse of God’s handiwork. A chance to walk within the masterpiece He has created. I’d love to tell you that I had some deep spiritual thought in that moment, but I didn’t. As I soaked it all in the soundtrack of the Eagles greatest hits played in my head and in that moment I felt connected to the songwriter because I truly understood what a peaceful, easy feeling was.

Life springs eternal on a gaudy, neon street… ~ Leaving Las Vegas by Sheryl Crow

 
Las Vegas is such a dichotomy…utter darkness in the midst of the brightest light, and I am not talking about casino lights. The sun shines brighter here and the sky actually seems bluer. A blue so vibrant it makes you feel like you just entered paradise while all around you are overwhelmed by the sin city welcome caravan that meets you at every turn. It’s hard to believe that the beautiful canyon I hiked is in the same place. 

As I walked the strip last night I began to soak it all in. The lady with her Louis Vuitton bag strutting by the homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk. The young girl screaming for attention through the outfit she has chosen to wear to the club. The beautiful bride and groom stopping for pictures in front of dancing fountains. The mom and dad with the baby in the stroller and the toddler holding their hand as if they had stumbled upon Disneyland. The man shouting to my husband and I to go to a strip club together because “couples who play together stay together” …who knew?!?! The levitating man that left me chilled to my very soul. The men holding signs screaming at people that the end is near, hell is real, and Jesus saves. All night long I saw the pendulum swing…the opulence and the poverty, the innocent and the jaded, the dark and the light. 

Desperado why don’t you come to your senses? ~ Desperado by the Eagles

The haunting piano begins to play and the first words are sung…you hear a plea, a cry of desperation. Desperado why don’t you come to your senses? Why such angst? Because prison is truly walking through this world all alone.

As a sat here this morning sorting and processing the heavy heart that went to bed with last night, wondering what on earth I was doing here, God gave me fresh perspective. He reminded me of two things.

1) Even His children have a tendency to walk through this world as desperado’s. When we chose our will and our agenda before His. When we make the plan and hope that God is on board. When we take up idols, holding tightly to the things that consume our thoughts and lives more than He does. Knowing the fullness of truth yet the distractions, the busyness, and the lure of self still pulls us into back into the prison of shutting God out. All the while He cries “why don’t you come to your senses?”
2) Every person I encountered last night is an image bearer of God…they are hurting, they are broken, they are searching for love and meaning. God highlighted that if His own children have a tendency to revert back to being desperados yet He still showers us with love and grace…then how much love and grace should I have for the nameless faces I encountered yesterday. The very people that God’s heart aches for because they too are His beloved creation but walking through this world all alone.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. ~ John 1:5

How easy it would be for me to say as a child of God I do not belong in a place like Las Vegas. But how wrong I would be. The reality is that every city is sin city. The only difference is that Las Vegas showcases what we ignore or turn blind eye to in our own communities. What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas…it happens all around us. Sure it doesn’t have the bright lights and showgirls to amp it up but don’t ever be deceived into thinking it’s not happening.

God reminded me this morning that I have two options. I can be a Pharisee and sit in judgment of everyone and everything around me. Closing myself off to be with people who are only like me and obey God in the way I believe they should. Or, I can be like Jesus, my Savior. God here on earth befriending the prostitutes and thieves alike. The very people that the Pharisees would have never bothered with Jesus sought out. The very people who were alone and empty…Jesus showed them compassion and kindness, love and grace.

The world is dirty and messy; I didn’t need to come to Las Vegas to know that. But what Las Vegas has taught me is that blatant brokenness hurts my heart. But God reminded me this morning that the hidden brokenness should break my heart too…the brokenness that is not so obvious, the behind closed doors kind. Las Vegas has rekindled in me a passion for the lost…for those who wander through this world all alone, disconnected from the love of God because those people are everywhere.

In the dichotomy of Las Vegas, I was reminded of the importance of light amidst the darkness. If you light a lamp in a well-lit room all you have done is made a bright room even brighter. But if you step out of your comfort zone and light a lamp in a room that is completely dark then you give those in the room the gift of sight. As a Christ follower I have the privilege and the awesome responsibility to be agent of light. Las Vegas has reminded me to never squander that gift.

 
 
 
 
 

  The Silver Lining.

“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.” ~ James Earl Jones

My name is Nikki Cat and I miss my blog. Writing has become my outlet and by neglecting my blog I have become like a sculptor with no clay or a musician with no instrument. Part of me is missing. The part of me that brings harmony to the discord and chaos. The part of me that finds humor in laughing at my self or finds joy in the movement of beauty around me. There is no outlet so it all stays bundled inside…with no place to go. Thoughts swim in my head…constantly in motion but going nowhere. The writer puts the words to a page so infrequently that slowly a dream begins to die.

Over the last several days I have been reminded that dreams are goals just waiting to be achieved. A person who doesn’t dream and doesn’t set goals is someone sitting on the sideline of life. They are merely are going through the motions as they pass through this life into the next. Today I decided I wanted my dream back. I set the goal…I will carve out time in my schedule to blog. I even got myself an accountability partner. One who is so serious about her role that she texted my husband and said “Sorry buddy, no Parenthood  on Netflix tonight my girl needs to write.” Well that is a loose paraphrase but that’s what she meant. Good girlfriends are the BEST!!!

As I pondered what I what would write I started with a title “The Silver Lining” How surprised I was when I open WordPress to discover I had started a blog with the exact same title nine months ago but did nothing with it. I had a title, a picture, and a quote but absolutely nothing written. Now I am not a coincidence girl…I am believer in timing…it is everything. So today I will complete what my heart longed to say nine months ago but didn’t quite have the words.

“The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depth it has its pearls too.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

The new year creeps in the way it does every year. Sometimes in a flurry of activity, sometimes in the calm stillness of a quiet evening, for some it will even pass by without a second thought as sleep consumes what is too painful to face. Yes…for some the new year brings to mind what has been lost, what has been fractured, what has been broken and the heart aches for what will never be again.

10 years ago this month our son was diagnosed with autism…

8 years ago this week our precious baby girl went home to Jesus…

Do you hear it?!?! The sound of shattered dreams. The shards of glass that encompass the dream of a well lived life splinter everywhere. When your dreams explode like that how do you ever dare to dream again?

“Dance on broken glass, build castles with shattered dreams and wear your tears like precious pearls. Proud. Strong. Unshakeable.”      ~ Anita Krizzan

The light at the end of the tunnel…the silver lining…anyone who has walked a painful road has struggled to see it. Some don’t even long to see it because the pain and the darkness keeps you connected to all that has been lost. But what if there is more? What if there is salve so powerful that it will take away the sting of facing a new year? What if your shattered dream actually becomes the catalyst to your greatest dreams?

This week I have been reminded that dreams are a gift, a gift from God. Life is hard and it can flat-out suck at times, how’s that for brutal honesty? But shattered dreams are not a confirmation that God doesn’t exist or that He abandons us. Rather, shattered dreams are the evidence of how broken our world actually is. They remind us that pain and suffering do not discriminate in a dying world.

But there IS a silver lining…

Will you open your eyes long enough to catch a glimpse of it?

When we walk in the valley of shattered dreams we can choose to curse God and abandon any hope of ever dreaming again or we can embrace Him and dare to do the unthinkable and dream bigger than we ever thought possible. I think we must first understand that the dreams for our lives are not are own. The dream for our lives was actually originated as God created us with His own hand, breathing His life into us, and in His very own image. He had a purpose for us. But the brokenness of sin entering this world fractured that dream. However, God was not content to let it end there. Instead He would suffer the greatest shattered dream ever known as His Son hung on a cross  so that we, the broken, battered, and disconnected, could once again be reunited with the One who loves us. The silver lining in the midst of the pain was the beauty of the reconciliation and restoration that would come. The dream that was shattered by the death of God’s Son , Jesus Christ, was the catalyst for His greatest dream…Jesus conquering the grave so His beloved children,all of us, could be redeemed. Out of much pain came much joy. He took what was meant to destroy and He turned into the greatest victory dance ever known. And God has that same desire for His children. As our hearts break so does His. He wants to take the pain  that was meant to destroy us and turn into the very source of all that we can become as He heals us. But you have to open your eyes and see Him, our silver lining. You have to look for the hand print of God and open your heart to His healing touch.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took the one less traveled and that has made all the difference.” ~ Robert Frost.

Dreaming anew is a choice…

The new year is the greatest opportunity to ignite the flame of old dreams whose light has died or discover new dreams lurking deep within our hearts. We all have dreams, some of us have just done a really good job of burying them under the rubble of crumbled expectations and shattered dreams.

When our dreams are shattered the easiest way to protect ourselves is to never dream again. If I had chosen this option my heart would have been hardened by the bitterness of disappointment and loss. My eyes would have been blinded to the love and grace all around me. I would have been content sitting on the sideline of life. However, I took the road less traveled and it has made all the difference.I decided to trust God. Even when I didn’t understand and even when I hated the process…I believed He could see more than I ever could.

Does the pain of the crumbled expectations and shattered dreams still exist for me…I wouldn’t be human if I said “no.” But the ultimate silver lining is that this isn’t the end. The ultimate dream has yet to come true…the day I walk in the heavenly realm where autism no longer exists and reunions are sweeter than I can ever imagine. Until that day I choose to trust the God who shattered His own dream for the greater dream of loving me. I choose to dream BIG and make a difference in the name of my Savior who carried me when the weight of the shattered dream brought me to my knees and healed my broken heart.

The silver lining is that with the new year comes a new opportunity to reignite the dreams that God ignited in me when I was too scared to dream again. The melancholy of the writer with no words is diminished in the presence of the One who gives meaning to everything worth writing about.

The silver lining is that every day of every year I get the privilege to serve the One who loved me first and loved me most.

“No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.” ~ Cinderella

 

Be Kind

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” ~ H.D. Thoreau

When you are a communicator whether by the written word or oration you want to grab people’s attention. You look for that catchy phrase, the story that can weave the web that will draw your audience in. However, sometimes simplicity says far more than grand tales or sticky statements. While culture tells us to bling it out or enhance its appearance with flashy baubles and accessories, simplicity strips it all away and shows us beauty in the rawest form. Simplicity reminds us that in its purest form God’s creation has a natural beauty that we often miss in the rush of insignificant details.

“Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, how you leave others feeling after an experience with you becomes your trademark.” ~ Jay Danzie

Today was a day like any other day, I had a schedule and I needed to stick to it. It’s the first of the month, which for me means a trip to our local county office for the department of community mental health. I had to turn in paperwork for the aides who work with my son. This is always a quick trip…in the door, paperwork dropped off, and out the door. The whole process usually takes about 5 minutes at most. However, today was different…today I met Ken.

As I entered the office I encountered a severely disabled man and his care giver. I soon discovered that the reason they had come to the office was a situation that this particular office could not help him with. What struck me instantly was neither the care giver nor the receptionist had a smile on their face. In fact both ladies looked somewhat annoyed with the man. As he continued to ask questions the receptionist seemed increasingly agitated. Now, I’m not going to lie, normally I would have been slightly put out because my 5 minute experience was already sitting at about 10 and I had yet to drop off my paperwork. However, I was calm, not irritated at all. Finally, the man said to the receptionist “I remember you. You were my first case worker. It is nice to see you again.” and with no smile and no warmth the women replied “nice to see you too.” Her attitude was so cold she could have solved the global warming issue in an instant.

In the moments that followed, the man exited my day as quickly as he entered it…or so I thought. With my paperwork dropped off I was on my way. But as I left the man and his care giver hadn’t gotten far in their own quest to leave. Not wanting to be rude, but needing to be on my way, I carefully maneuvered around the man’s wheelchair to make my departure. That’s when the course of my day totally changed. As I passed by I heard the voice, that I now recognized, say “are you a caregiver?” I turned with a smile “No, I have a son with autism and I had to drop off paperwork for his caregivers.” He smiled back, “My name is Ken” I couldn’t walk away now, “Hi Ken. I’m Nikki, it’s so nice to meet you.” He told me was 40 years old, just a year older than me, and he had been on his own with caregivers since he was 18. I tried to wrap my mind around his circumstances but I just couldn’t. Then his face changed a bit, he was pondering what he would say next. “Can I ask you a question?” Of course he could.  “Is it hard to have a child with special needs?” From that point Ken and I carried on a wonderful conversation. I admitted the challenges I face as I watch my son struggle but I also shared the joys of celebrating every little accomplishment like it was reaching the top of Everest. In turn Ken shared how humbling it is to need help with everything, from putting on his shoes to going to the bathroom. I soon realized Ken just wanted someone to talk to. Someone who was actually interested in what he had to say…he longed to be known. He also longs for a girlfriend, he told me she hasn’t come along…yet!

“I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! ~ Psalm 116: 1-2

I felt it…I knew it was coming as the Spirit began to stir in me.  I knew this was a God ordained moment so I let all my inhibitions melt away and the words tumbled from my mouth, “Ken, can I pray with you?” Without hesitation Ken grabbed hold of my hand. I praised my God for the gift of Ken, for blessing my day with his presence, and prayed that he would remind Ken, often, that he was wonderfully made for a plan and a purpose. With tears in his eyes, still holding my hand, Ken reminded me that God would never give me more than I could handle and I needed to stand firm on God’s promises because He is faithful. To which I reminded Ken that he could do all things through the One that gives him strength.

After a few more words exchanged my new friend drifted out of life. I wonder if Ken will ever know how profoundly he impacted my day and my life for that matter? It would have been so easy in my busyness to pretend like I ever never heard Ken call out to me. I could have justified the brush off all day long in my head. But as I stood in that office with the unsmiling caregiver and receptionist I couldn’t help but think of my own son. What happens when I am not here? Will people treat him with the same cold disdain? I had no idea in just a few moments God would test my ability to choose what matters most, to say a best yes and truly experience intentional investment.

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change. Kindness that catches us by surprise brings out the best in our natures.” ~ Bob Kerrey

All day I have reflected on my encounter Ken. The single thought that has been etched in my mind is how he grabbed my hand and held it as we prayed. I wonder how long it has been since anyone has held Ken’s hand simply as a gesture of kindness, friendship, or love? When was the last time he felt a tender touch that told him that he had value and worth?

As I ponder I hear the echo of my Savior words “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Second to loving Him, God wants us to love one another. But in order to love one another we actually need to slow down long enough to notice people. We have to strip away all the baubles and the bling and to find the raw, natural beauty found at the heart of the simplest of concepts…kindness.

“In the end, only kindness matters.” ~ Jewel from the song Hands

Had it been left up to me I would have walked right past Ken today. Busy in my own thoughts, my own life, my own world. I would have missed a tremendous blessing. I cannot help but wonder how many blessings we walk right past every day? Little ways that God shows us He is always with us we miss because we are too distracted by the details to notice the important. How many opportunities to be the light and love of Christ do we squander because the noise of our chatterboxes has tuned out the still, soft voice of the Spirit prompting us to move?

Tonight as I write I am reminded that my Savior was never too distracted to invest in people. I see Jesus with the woman at the well, calling Zaccheaus down from the tree, eating at the table of Matthew the tax collector, healing the woman who was bleeding, and the list goes on. Kindness, born out of love, flowed out of Jesus and into those who encountered Him. The very people who society showed a cold disdain for, Jesus showed the tender touch of compassion and love. Today I was blessed with a Jesus moment…his name was Ken, the humble man who chose to intentionally invest in me. He illuminated the light of our Savior as he showed me kindness and reminded me of the beauty that can be found when we simply follow Jesus’ commands to love others as we desire to be loved. What a special gift I received. I will treasure it by following Ken’s example and investing in others, even for the briefest of moments.